Ealasaid/ June 14, 2005/ Movie Reviews and Features, Writing

Directed by: Bruce Campbell
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Antoinette Bryon, Vladimir Kolev, Ted Raimi, Stacy Keach, Tamara Gorski
Rated: Not Rated, but could be PG-13 for language, mild sexual content, and gross pseudo-science.
Parental Notes: There are some mildly disgusting scenes in here, including open-brain surgery, but most preteens will probably be all right. Fans of Bruce Campbell’s other works shouldn’t miss this film.

“Man With the Screaming Brain” opens at the Camera 7 Pruneyard Friday, June 17 and will run for one week. Check www.cameracinemas.com for show times. If you miss that, you might be able to catch it at summer film festivals. Or you can wait for the edited-for-TV version that will air on the Sci-Fi Channel on September 25.

B movies have a certain sort of charm. The second-rate special effects, hammed-up acting, and by-the-numbers plots are dreadful on the surface but there is often an underlying love of entertainment and adventure that appeals to a certain segment of the movie-going populace. Bruce Campbell is a veteran actor of the B movie scene (“Evil Dead,” “Bubba Ho-Tep,” “Escape From L.A.” etc.), but “Man With the Screaming Brain” is his first full-length project as a director. Of course, in true B-movie style, he also stars in the film. And he co-wrote it. Oh, and he produced it, too. Between this and the two books he has under his belt (his memoir “If Chins Could Kill” and a new novel, “Make Love! The Bruce Campbell Way”), Campbell has a lot of hats — but he wears them all with the same cocksure skill.

The story centers around two stereotypical Americans, wealthy drug tsar William Cole (Campbell) and his beautiful but dissatisfied wife Jackie (Antoinette Bryon). The Coles have come to Bravoda, Bulgaria so that William can look into investing in the town’s half-finished subway system. The couple’s marriage is on the rocks, and ex-KGB-agent-turned-taxi-driver Yegor (Vladimir Kolev) only eggs them on when they hire his cab: Jackie finds his resourcefulness and scruffiness alluring while William finds his dislike of capitalism repulsive.

No grade-B horror movie would be complete without a mad scientist, and “Man With the Screaming Brain” provides one in the form of Dr. Ivan Ivanovich Ivanov (Stacy Keach) and his assistant Pavel (Ted Raimi). They’ve been working on an anti-inhibitor drug, one which would let any transplant of any kind be accepted by any patient. Dr. Ivanov hopes William will invest in his work, and he gets the perfect opportunity to show off when Yegor and William meet with an accident. That accident comes in the form of the beautiful Tatoya (Tamara Gorski), a gypsy who used to be involved with Yegor and has now set her sights on William.

By the climax of the film, William has a sizeable chunk of Yegor’s brain in his head, Jackie has been transplanted into the body of a robot, and all three of them want to kill Tatoya. A fairly even mix of horror movie clichés and physical comedy, this is classic B movie madness.

Bruce Campbell is a B movie mainstay, from his work in the “Evil Dead” films to this March’s SciFi Channel movie “Alien Apocalypse.” He’s a working man’s actor, just doing his job regardless of the quality of the film. It’s hard to praise a man’s acting when the material isn’t exactly demanding, but Campbell is a true entertainer and that shines through regardless of the quality of the script. The rest of the cast are suitably goofy as well, from Raimi hamming it up as an American-culture-loving Bulgarian to the scenery-chewing Gorski. Fans of Ted Raimi will want to stick around for the credits, which scroll to the tune of a rap he wrote and performed in character.

Is “Man With the Screaming Brain” a good movie? Only in one respect: it is a heck of a lot of fun to watch. The actors throw themselves into their roles with gusto and are unafraid of looking silly in front of the camera. It may not be great cinema, but it’s awfully entertaining.